The 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium was the Illini’s largest margin of defeat at home since a 63-10 loss to Penn State in Ron Zook’s first season as coach in 2005. Instead of peeking ahead to the Big Ten season, the Illini faithful are looking back, comparing coach Tim Beckman to Zook, Ron Turner and Lou Tepper.



 

 



CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football seems headed back to the future.



The 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium was the Illini’s largest margin of defeat at home since a 63-10 loss to Penn State in Ron Zook’s first season as coach in 2005. Instead of peeking ahead to the Big Ten season, the Illini faithful are looking back, comparing coach Tim Beckman to Zook, Ron Turner and Lou Tepper.



Illinois (2-2) hosts Penn State (2-2) in the Big Ten opener Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN). After Illinois began the season with guarded optimism behind a coaching change, a tested defense and veteran quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini already shattered confidence and left even the diehards recounting those projected wins on the schedule.



On a day when the Big Ten was bad again, Illinois was worse. A second blowout in his first four games wasn’t good for Illinois and Beckman. The honeymoon didn’t last long.



Q: So who starts at quarterback against the Nittany Lions?



A: If Scheelhaase is healthy, he’s expeected to start. Scheelhaase was rusty in his first start after missing two games, Beckman said. Scheelhaase admitted he wasn’t 100 percent “but the ankle was good enough to play,’’ he said, after getting pulled following his fumble and interception in the first quarter.



In such an important game, the Illini wanted to give Scheelhaase a try, but it became apparent he wasn’t healthy. Scheelhaase didn’t run other than two scrambles and didn’t have his burst.



“I just have to get back to the point where I can run away from people,’’ he said. “There are plays I could have made and two plays I wanted back.’’



After Scheelhaase’s exit, Reilly O’Toole handled all but two snaps the rest of the way. Third-stringer Miles Osei played briefly in the second quarter. Beckman said the quarterbacks would be “competing’’ this week.



Q: Who must be feeling the most heat?



A: That’s got to be defensive coordinator Tim Banks. Regarded as the team’s strength, the Illini “D” lost all trust after allowing 97 points in the two losses.



Louisiana Tech burned Illini cornerback Terry Hawthorne for a 78-yard touchdown pass on the second play in the second half, when the Bulldogs’ adjustments tore up the home team.



“They just beat us on one-on-one situations,’’ Beckman said.



Banks was no better than Illinois’ third choice. Remember, Illinois offered a co-defensive coordinator spot to Vic Koenning, the guy who resurrected the Illini defense over the previous two seasons. He left, then Jon Tenuta took the job for a day before heading back to N.C. State.


 



Q: What’s the biggest concern moving forward?



A: A lack of depth is hitting critical mass. With center Graham Pocic out with a knee injury and tackle Hugh Thornton missing the second half with a knee injury, the Illini were missing their two best linemen.



Q: Where’s some source of hope?



A: Running back Donovonn Young ran hard, and the Illini found a way to use quick running back Josh Ferguson as a wide receiver in the slot. That’s maximizing the talent in the backfield.



In addition, the Illinois defense blown out by two spread teams doesn’t face that scheme again until Oct. 13 at Michigan. The Illini have a better chance handling Penn State and Wisconsin.



John Supinie can be reached at johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.